Can We Compete? | October 15, 2007 Issue - Vol. 85 Issue 42 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 42 | p. 46 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: October 15, 2007

Can We Compete?

By Catherine T. Hunt, ACS President
Department: ACS News, Government & Policy
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

On Aug. 4, President George W. Bush signed the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education & Science (Competes) Act into law. This is our nation's most comprehensive science policy legislation since the Sputnik era.

The America Competes Act authorizes $43.3 billion over three years for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research and education programs. More specifically, it sets the U.S. on a path to double funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science over the next 10 years. It includes critical support for important teacher training and development programs, as well as establishes incentives to strengthen STEM education across all grade levels.

Speaking with one voice. A photo taken at the signing ceremony in the Oval Office captures the proud moment and the smiles of the bill's congressional champions. This celebratory session, however, only captures part of the story.

What's missing? What you don't see is that ACS has taken a leadership role in creating a competitiveness "buzz" in Washington, D.C. We were instrumental in bringing together a broad and far-reaching scientific community across business, academic institutions, education groups, and our sister societies to make the America Competes Act a reality.

Why now? Books like Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century" made it clear that globalization is upon us and there is no turning back. This book stimulated public interest in understanding the new economy and its implications for all of us.

Then came the hallmark report from the National Academies, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." This report was requested and championed by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), and former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). This report crystallized the impending challenges and focused policymakers on solutions.

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It all adds up! Few of us can point to a bill and say, "I helped write that." But in the case of the America Competes Act, we can take satisfaction in knowing that our efforts made a difference. From mid-2005 to mid-2007, ACS members sent more than 21,000 letters via the Legislative Action Network (LAN) and made more than 75 local visits to reinforce and sustain our message. The message is that increased federal research funding and improved STEM education are vital to the health and well-being of our nation, our profession, and our communities.

During our tenures as ACS president, Bill Carroll, E. Ann Nalley, and I have focused on raising the profile of innovation and competitiveness with legislators, the media, the public, and the next generation. We have written more than 40 letters to Congress and the White House with the message that revitalizing our nation's STEM educational system and reigniting its commitment to science and technology are essential to America's leadership role in the global economy. Pulling this all together was our ACS Office of Legislative & Government Affairs (OLGA), which spent almost 8,000 hours on advocacy activities.

The America Competes Act creates a high school laboratory science pilot. The legislation bolsters NSF and DOE educational programs, particularly in teacher training, and preserves the Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which recruits STEM graduates into teaching. In addition, a new DOE grant program will enhance university nuclear science education, which will address concerns from ACS members.

To keep the momentum going, we need Congress and the White House to appropriate the research funding set forth in the America Competes Act.

What's next? In addition, other ACS legislative priorities are currently under congressional discussion, including green chemistry and the inclusion of science education in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Your voice is critical to these debates. Are you a member of LAN? If not, consider joining! Does your local section have a government affairs committee? If not, why not start one? For details on how to speak up for science and technology, contact Brad Smith of OLGA at

Measuring up. By any measure, our focused efforts are paying off, but this is no time to rest on our laurels. We, as chemists and chemical professionals, need to continue to focus on cutting-edge science to further expand the frontiers of knowledge and catalyze economic growth. One example of this is the area of thematic programming at our recent national meeting in Boston, "Biotechnology for Health & Wellness." This programming offers tangible evidence of how, by investing in R&D, we can transform into reality our ACS vision, "Improving people's lives through the transforming power of chemistry."

As promised, video of the Aug. 19 Presidential Session "Material Innovations from Nanotech to Biotech & Beyond!" is available on the ACS president's website,

For further discussion, you can reach me at


Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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